On Gratitude, Rumi, Reflection, and Gold

Now that it’s Saturday morning, I’m reflecting a bit on this past week.

I leave for Ethiopia 2 weeks from today, with my daughter Aselefech and her daughter, to visit Aselefech’s Ethiopian family. This week, Aselefech reached–and exceeded–her fundraising goal for Bring Love In, a nonprofit that creates new families from widows and orphans in Ethiopia. She is running a half marathon on August 17 for the fundraiser, which continues until that date. Aselefech continues to run and train hard. I continue to admire her.

An adoptive mom challenged me about something I mentioned in a post that disappointed and displeased her. She was candid, clear, and gracious in her challenge. It’s no fun disappointing and annoying others, whether it’s reasonable (as this was) or not. I am grateful that she spoke up. We texted back and forth. She started out with, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to help you anymore,” and we ended by her telling me about a new project she’s working on, one that I look forward to supporting fully.

We both talked about how we have been slammed (sometimes pretty viciously) for our views on adoption, our stance on agencies, our past work, and current hopes. What a gift she gave me in telling me her truth, and in listening to mine. There are many reasons to be angry, so when we can meet in honesty, listen genuinely, and then move ahead together on separate paths–well, it’s amazing, and deserves reflection.

Rumi wrote: The wound is the place where the light enters you.

I heard from someone this week whom I love dearly, who has had multiple hard struggles, some of his own creation, some beyond his control. He can go a long time without communicating. The entire message: I miss you. The light that has entered through his wounds has not created healing–not yet. I have to hope that it will.

I Skyped with my 84-year-old Dad, as I do every Friday. The wi-fi connection was terrible. Dad, in middle stages of dementia, handled it pretty well. Each time we reconnected, he was again in the moment. He’s fading these days, though he always asks if any of my kids are getting married soon. (No.) He has a friend, Katherine, in the assisted living facility where he’s lived for 3 years now. She was married for 50 years; her husband passed away recently. My dad and mom had been married for 50 years when mom died in 2003. Mom would have been 84 this July 28. I’m grateful that Katherine and my dad share a history of happy marriage, and that those memories have likely brought them together. She always holds his hand, and reminds him to wear a hat when they go outside. Like Dad, she probably remembers fewer and fewer of life’s details. Like Dad, she remembers the familiarity of love.

I learned this week about kintsugi: the Japanese art of creating a perfectly imperfect piece of beauty: finding beauty in brokenness, and reimagining it, not by pretending the cracks don’t exist, but by reinventing and healing them with gold. It’s focused on ceramics, but I can see a lot of other applications.



May we know that our wounds can let in light. May our loved ones find peace and healing. May we see beauty, even in brokenness.



Chinese Baby Girls and Terracotta Soldiers

China’s One Child law, which took effect in 1979, has meant that couples with more than one child would be fined or otherwise punished, There is a cultural preference for boys in China, and so girls have often been abandoned (or aborted or murdered). A trickle of adoptions from China began in the early 1980’s. Some 70,000 Chinese baby girls have arrived in the US for adoption since the early 1990’s. Thousands more were adopted to Canada, western Europe, and Australia. Most were under 3 years old, so most are now reaching adulthood.

The One Child law has created controversy in terms of ethics and economics; these controversies are familiar territory for international adoption as well. The policy has also, not surprisingly, created a range of responses from poets, filmmakers, writers, sculptors, and other artists, in China and around the globe.

You’ve perhaps heard of the astonishing Terracotta Army, a huge collection of sculptures buried underground in Xi’an with the first emperor of China, around 210 BC. They were discovered in 1974, and consist of over 8,000 soldiers, plus chariots, horses, and more. A Wikipedia article called “Terracotta Army” is here. If you are in Bern, Switzerland, you can see “Qin–The eternal emperor and his terracotta warriors” on display through November 7, 2013, at. The warriors will be on display at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in May 2014. The Indy museum is the world’s largest children’s museum, by the way. Of course, the best place to view the warriors is in Xi’an itself, of course. It was a TripAdvisor.com Travelers Choice 2013 Winner.

So what is the connection among art, Chinese baby girls, and the Terracotta Army?


A BBC article “How Chinese art explores its one-child policy” explains. Here’s the introduction:

“Huiyun started her life in the garbage. As an unwanted baby girl, her parents abandoned her in the poor province where she was born in central China. There, a pair of refuse collectors found her with her umbilical cord still attached. They kept her, bringing her up as their own.

Huiyun is now 12 years old, and life has taken a turn for the better. This year she became one of eight models featured in provocative French artist Prune Nourry’s new exhibition Terracotta Daughters, now showing in Shanghai’s Gallery Magda Danysz. An exploration of China’s skewed sex ratio, the exhibition dishes up a new version of a national treasure − with a twist. Nourry has fashioned more than one hundred sculptures in the same clay, and using the same techniques, as the ancient Terracotta Warriors, the famous collection of sculptures representing the armies of the first Emperor of China. But instead of producing a brigade of soldiers, the artist has created an army of schoolgirls. They symbolise China’s millions of missing women.”

You can find the rest of the BBC article here.

I do want to note that while the title of the BBC article is “How Chinese art explores its one-child policy,” the sculptor of the Terracotta Daughters is a French artist currently based in Brooklyn. Prune Nourry in 2010 exhibited work titled “Holy Daughters,” which drew “parallels between the cow, sacred animal and symbol of fertility in India, and the depreciated condition of women.”

As a writer and artist, I find this work evocative and challenging.  “An army of school girls.” Terracotta Daughters: yet whose daughters are they? And of course, there is an army of Chinese adult adoptees as well, and I mean that in the most empowering and respectful sense. Baby girls, and adopted children, grow up. Some choose to travel back to China, to  explore the culture, to search for family, to re-connect as Americans, as Chinese-Americans, as immigrants to America, as Chinese adults.

The acclaimed documentary Somewhere Between follows 4 young women adopted from China as they consider identity, loss, ethnicity, race, and more.

We can learn so much by listening to their journeys and stories, as well as those of the Terracotta Daughters.

Swimming Along With African-American Beauty

All four of my kids are excellent swimmers, which makes them unusual among African-Americans. Some reports indicate that 70% of African-Americans and 60% of Latinos cannot swim. According to the Center for Disease Control, between 2005 and 2009, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity is widest among children 5-14 years old.

The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range.

There are lots of complicated historical, socioeconomic, and other reasons for the lack of swimming among African-Americans.  It’s quite different from tennis or golf (which also have low proportions of African-Americans participating), because there’s not so much danger of dying in those activities.

I would of course like to see all these sports and activities embraced by all sorts of people, having fun and being safe.

My daughter Adanech and son Chris, when they were in elementary school, were on the swim team for our town’s swim club.  Let’s just say it was fairly easy to locate them in the well-populated team picture.

Adanech, now 24,  has continued to use swimming as exercise, and even more intentionally as a stress reliever. I admire that. My granddaughter Zariyah loves the water, especially if her uncle Sean is there.


Z is wearing a swim cap here, as she usually does, as many swimmers do.

My experience with my daughters and with their black girlfriends when they were growing up–and still today–was that hair was a factor in swimming. Unlike many white, Asian, or Latina girls, these girls did not always freely jump in the water, especially not if they’d spent some serious time and money on their hair (via chemicals, flat irons, hairdryers, curlers, braids, weave, beads, more). The impact of chlorinated water on chemically treated hair can be especially damaging, no doubt.

Seeing hair as a gift and not a burden is one of the responsibilities, I believe, of white parents of black children. Yes, we need to learn how to care for it, comb it, celebrate it.  We need to associate their hair not with inconvenience or tears or time-consuming chores, but with positive energy and beauty.

And we need to encourage our children to swim, with swim caps if needed (that don’t pull out hair at the hairline), with styles that work well in water, with hair protected before and after swimming from the chlorine (conditioner matters), and with confidence that they can do it.  As the poet Rumi wrote, “Today, let us swim wildly, joyously in gratitude.”

Iman, Zariyah, and Racism’s Chokehold on Beauty and Ballet

My granddaughter Zariyah was a model for a Black History Month project titled “Because of Them, We Can.” Iconic African-Americans (the Obamas, Malcolm X, Alice Walker, Myrlie Evers, Langston Hughes, many more) are quoted, and a photo of a child appears with the quote. It’s a lovely series.

IMG_7599Iman (aka David Bowie’s wife) is an astonishingly beautiful, accomplished woman. Since I am a brassy gramma, I sent the photo of Z along with a brief message to Iman on Facebook. I got a classy message back: “I’m honored beyond belief! Thank you!” I am among her 40,000 FB fans, but she wrote to me directly.  Please–let me labor under that illusion.

Today, this was posted on Iman’s page:


We can chat about art and creative license in high fashion, about controversial ways to get attention, about the role of blackface in American history, about the scarcity of models of color on haute couture runways. It’s all tangled together.

The biggest challenge, at the end of the day and debate, is for me what it says to young girls of color about their beauty and its value to the world. Racism has beauty in a chokehold.

An example:

Lauren Anderson

Lauren Anderson was the first African-American to be named a principal in a major ballet company (Houston Ballet). That was in 1990, a mere 127 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. About 6 generations worth. What additional groundbreaking might we expect in our society in another 127 years, by 2140?

In the meantime, there are still very few black ballerinas, especially in major dance companies. Many continue told they are not “right” for classical ballet, but one wonders how clearly they are seen beyond the color of their skin.

I’d like to note and honor two other remarkable ballerinas. One is the recently deceased Maria Tallchief, considered America’s first prima ballerina and the first Native American to hold that title. The other is Michaela de Prince, a Sierrra Leone adoptee who was told as a child she couldn’t be in the Nutcracker because of her race; she’s now performing with the newly relaunched Dance Theater of Harlem.

To go full circle here, Iman Cosmetics is the 2013 Beauty Sponsor of the Dance Theater.

My granddaughter Zariyah is not yet fully aware of the power of racism in the United States today. She dances for the joy of it, and her long arms and legs are, to me, elegantly right for ballet.

IMG_7961I’m so grateful to those who’ve blazed incredible paths, at great cost, in the name of art and of what is beautiful and right.